When God Commanded the Worship of Adam

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by Neil Godfrey

jesusMonotheismThe Judaism prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 CE and that was the Judaism known to those responsible for the birth of Christianity was not the rabbinic Judaism that emerged in ensuing centuries. In recent years scholars Hurtado and Bauckham have attempted to defend the historical roots of contemporary Christian orthodoxy in relation to monotheism by focusing on evidence that suggests Second Temple Judaism (i.e. the Judaism prior to 70 CE) did not know of cultic worship of any figure other than The One God. Other scholars have criticized Hurtado and Bauckham for being too restricted in their selection of the evidence and for being too pedantically narrow in their question framing. One of these critics, and the latest one whose work has been added to my “to read” shelf, is Crispin Fletcher-Jones. His 2015 work is Jesus Monotheism: Volume 1. Christological Origins: the Emerging Consensus and Beyond.

While it is too early for me to outline his arguments in this post, both those contrary to Bauckham’s and Hurtado’s theses and his own interpretations and broader implications for our understanding of Second Temple Judaism, I can at least for now quote the critical section of a Latin manuscript of the Life of Adam and Eve. (I’ll save the reasons for dating this text to the pre-70 CE era and other discussions of the various language manuscript lines till later.)

What is fascinating in this text is the reason God commands all the angels to worship Adam at the time of his creation — that is, before his “Fall”. The text throws us the first time we read it if we have always assumed that the Jews had as strict and narrow a conception of monotheism as we do and as we believe they have had ever since Moses.

The account of the command to worship Adam (Fletcher-Louis points out this analogy) reads remarkably like the challenge presented to Daniel and his friends by Nebuchadnezzar:

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold . . . 

Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the nations and peoples of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

. . . 

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar . . . we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. (Daniel 3, NIV)

Setting up an image and commanding worship at its feet is a no-no — we all know that’s the rule of the God of the Bible. But think a moment about the creation of Adam who was made “in the image and likeness” of God.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness. . . “ (Gen 1:26)

Adam is the image made by God. God made him in “his” image and in “his” likeness. The angels were commanded to worship the image of God. read more »


Comparing Jewish and Islamic Terrorism

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by Neil Godfrey

anonSolThere are a number of interesting similarities between

  • the West’s response to the anti-British terrorist campaigns of the Jewish terrorist groups Irgun and Lehi in the 1930s and 40s 


  • “our” response to Islamic terrorism in more recent years. 

There are also obvious differences but this post is taking a look at the similarities that struck me on reading Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917-1947 by Bruce Hoffman.

Before looking at the parallels notice Hoffman’s striking concluding remarks on the relationship between the two terrorisms (my own bolding and formatting, pp. 483-4):

The Irgun’s terrorism campaign in fact is critical to understanding the evolution and development of contemporary terrorism. The group effectively directed its message to audiences far beyond the immediate geographic locus of its struggle — in New York and Washington and Paris and Moscow as much as in London and Jerusalem. This taught a powerful lesson to similarly aggrieved peoples elsewhere, who now saw in terrorism an effective means of transforming hitherto local conflicts into international issues.

  • Less than a decade later, the leader of the anti-British guerrilla campaign in Cyprus, General George Grivas, adopted an identical strategy. . . . the parallels between the two are unmistakable.
  • The internationalization of Palestinian Arab terrorism that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s would also appear to owe something to the quest for international attention and recognition that the Irgun’s own terrorist campaign . . . .
  • And the Brazilian revolutionary theorist Carlos Marighella’s famous Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla, which was essential reading for the various left-wing terrorist organizations that arose both in Latin America and in Western Europe during the 1960s and 1970s, embodies Begin’s strategy . . . .

Thus the foundations were laid for the transformation of terrorism in the late 1960s from a primarily localized phenomenon into the security problem of global proportions that it remains today.

Indeed, when U.S. military forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001, they found a copy of Begin’s seminal work, The Revolt, along with other books about the Jewish terrorist struggle, in the well-stocked library that al-Qaeda maintained at one of its training facilities in that country.


Extraordinary Rendition and Guantanamo for the “worst of the worst” 

The cabinet approved the decision two days later, and on October 19 [1944], 251 imprisoned Jewish terrorists whom the authorities deemed the most dangerous were secretly flown from Palestine to British-occupied Eritrea aboard eighteen DC-3 transport aircraft accompanied by fighter escort. (p. 153)

From there, Lankin was transferred under heavy guard to police headquarters at the Russian Compound for interrogation. Later that day he was brought to the adjacent central prison facility and, deemed the most dangerous of the lot, quickly transferred to Acre prison and then exiled to the secret terrorist detention facility in Eritrea. (p. 189)

International monitoring bodies like the Red Cross and problematic access to these remote prisons. . . .

The Geneva Convention said not to apply to terrorist prisoners who do not have POW status . . . . read more »


Comments open

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by Neil Godfrey

Comments have been reopened on my latest past on Plato and the Bible — Thanks to E.Harding for alerting me to their locked status. Have no idea what happened there, why or how the option was turned off for a while.

Plato’s and the Bible’s Ideal States

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by Neil Godfrey


The first Christians shared all things in common; the first people of God began as a nation of twelve tribes. Plato would have been impressed with both beginnings.


Previous in this series:

  1. Plato’s and the Bible’s Ideal Laws: Similarities 1:631-637  (2015-06-22)
  2. Plato’s and Bible’s Laws: Similarities, completing Book 1 of Laws  (2015-06-23)
  3. Plato’s Laws, Book 2, and Biblical Values (2015-07-13)
  4. Plato and the Bible on the Origins of Civilization (2015-08-13)
  5. Bible’s Presentation of Law as a Model of Plato’s Ideal (2015-08-24)


Book 5 of Plato’s Laws

Laws 739b-c Acts 2:42-47
The first and highest form of the state and of the government and of the law is that in which there prevails most widely the ancient saying, that “Friends have all things in common.Whether there is anywhere now, or will ever be, this communion of women and children and of property, in which the private and individual is altogether banished from life, and things which are by nature private, such as eyes and ears and hands, have become common, and in some way see and hear and act in common, and all men express praise and blame and feel joy and sorrow on the same occasions, and whatever laws there are unite the city to the utmost-whether all this is possible or not, I say that no man, acting upon any other principle, will ever constitute a state which will be truer or better or more exalted in virtue.

And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers.
And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
and they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, according as any man had need.
And day by day, continuing stedfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, 
praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved.

So began the Christian church, one body, having all things common, like-minded, expressing praise and feeling joy together daily.

If we wink at the fact that Luke probably didn’t mean to indicate that the women and children were included in the common property Plato would have said

no one will ever lay down another definition [of a State] that is truer or better than these conditions in point of super-excellence. (739c Bury’s translation)

People in such an ideal state would inevitably be “happy”:

Whether such a state is governed by Gods or sons of Gods, one, or more than one, happy are the men who, living after this manner, dwell there. . . 


Laws 745d Ezekiel 47:13, Numbers 1:44 & Matthew 19:28
And the legislator shall divide the citizens into twelve parts,

and arrange the rest of their property, as far as possible, so as to form twelve equal parts;

and there shall be a registration of all. 

Ye shall divide the land for inheritance according to the twelve tribes of Israel . . . .

These were the men registered by Moses and Aaron and the twelve leaders of Israel.

The Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Plato was imagining an ideal state. Having all things in common he considered to be too idealistic to be practical so he considered next-best options. Twelve tribes was the more realistic option, each tribe named after one of the twelve gods of Olympus. The land was to be divided “equally” but that meant larger allotments would be created to compensate for poorer quality soil in some areas. There was to be a methodical census of all citizens.

We know the story of the twelve tribes of Israel, both the original one from Genesis and the renewed one with the twelve apostles.


Let’s backtrack and start at the beginning. Book 5 begins with the most important things, the gods, followed by those next in rank, the “demons”, then the human soul (our divine part), and finally the human body, and speaks of the respective honours each is owed.  read more »


New Atheism, Tribalism and Ignorance of How Religion and Humans Work

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by Neil Godfrey

heatherSometimes the most slap-dash of posts get the most attention and my recent post, Atheism, Cults and Toxicity, is the latest instance. At this moment it has garnered 111 comments and today Heather Hastie of Heather’s Homilies has responded to it with Is New Atheism a Cult? with another 72 responses at this moment.

The irony behind all of this kerfuffle is that I had decided to check out a book Jerry Coyne had cryptically complained about (it was written “by an Atheist Who Shall Not Be Named” he said for some unexplained reason). I only read the first few pages of C.J. Werleman’s book —

(is there some curse pronounced on anyone who names the author? Tough — I don’t agree with Coyne’s totalitarian tactic of erasing from all records memories of those he deems to be his opponents and banning all contrary political thought from his comments pages)

— anyway, as I was saying, I only read the first few pages of this work by an author (named C.J. Werleman) and was immediately struck by how “true” it rang with my own personal experience of exchanges with fervent supporters of Coyne’s, Harris’s and Dawkins’s views on the role of the Islamic religion in Islamic extremism today. It also struck a chord with my very similar experiences with some of the less scholarly advocates of the Christ Myth theory.

So I posted a few chunks of Werleman’s early pages that I believed hit the nail on the head in their description of the toxic tone of these Harris-Coyne-Dawkins and Murdock supporters with respect to the specific question of Islam and religion as forces of evil today.

Before I continue let me say that yes, I do agree that Islam’s teachings are socially retrograde in many respects but I also recall how it is only in recent years that Christianity itself and some Indigenous belief systems have begun to struggle out of many medieval and prehistoric values that have brought misery and even death in their wake; I oppose toxic and oppressive religions as anyone who has read anything about my past knows; and I do fully support any and all constructive programs aimed at encouraging liberalization with humanistic values in all faiths.

But let’s back track a step. This current flurry began when I attempted when Coyne posted the following words of mine directed to him:

Jerry, what concerns me about the various statements made by yourself along with Dawkins and Harris is that they are not informed by specialist scholarship — sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists et al — in Islamic and terrorist studies. Rather, they seem to be fueled by visceral reactions without the benefit of broader understanding and knowledge that comes from scholarly investigations into these phenomena. It almost appears to some of us that your criticisms are willfully ignorant of the scholarship. I find these visceral responses coming from trained scientists difficult to understand.

read more »


How Terrorists Are Made: 2 — Group Grievance

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing the series on Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us by Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko. Previous post: How Terrorists… 1 – Personal Grievance.

This post looks at the psychological mechanisms at work among those who are radicalized and turn to terrorist acts in response to threats or harm inflicted on a group of cause they care about.

Readiness to sacrifice for friends and family is so common that it is often seen as natural and no more in need of explanation than having two eyes. But sacrifices for non-kin present more of a puzzle.


Vera Zasulich (1849-1919), a leading nihilist, shoots and wounds police chief Trepov in retaliation for his brutality : she is tried but acquitted by a sympathetic court.1878

Vera Zasulich (1849-1919), shoots and wounds police chief Trepov in retaliation for his brutality : she is tried but acquitted by a sympathetic court.1878

Vera Zazulich (alt Zasulich. Link is to Wikipedia article)

Nineteenth century Russia was a time of social turmoil. Vera Zazulich, from a modest noble family, became involved in student activist circles. She was arrested and exiled to a remote village in 1869 but returned to mix with a new student group.

Zasulich became outraged over an event she read about in the newspapers — the flogging of a political prisoner. The Governor of St Petersburg, Trepov, had passed the prisoner twice; the first time the prisoner removed his hat but not the second time. Trepov ordered him to be flogged. Zasulich did not know the prisoner, was not herself threatened in any way, but according to her own testimony at her trial she decided to risk her own life to follow her conscience and attempt deliver justice upon cruel government officials for their mistreatment of student activists. (Zasulich had planned with a friend to kill two government officials and drew lots to decide their respective targets.)

Their motivation was to see justice done. It was entirely altruistic. They had nothing to gain; Zasulich was acting on behalf of people she did not know against others she did not know personally. Her actions and testimony following her crime (she did not attempt to hide and said she was prepared to face any penalty the court decided) make it clear that she had nothing to gain for herself. read more »


How Terrorists Are Made: 1 – Personal Grievance

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by Neil Godfrey

frictionNot every book I discuss here I would recommend but I am about to post on chapters in Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us by Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko and this one I do recommend. It is a quick yet grounded introduction to a range of factors that turn people towards radical action against state powers, extremist violence and terrorism. Each chapter looks at one of twelve contributing factors through biographical case studies accompanied by descriptions of scientific research into the relevant human behaviour.

Some of the mechanisms for radicalization operate at an individual level; others involve the dynamics of small group and mass social psychology.

Not only do we read about “them” but we also learn what motivates “us” to fully support our governments to launch campaigns of state terrorism — war, torture, extra-judicial murder.

Sometimes it appears just one factor is enough to propel people to extremist violence; more often several factors come into play. Friction concludes with a look at the life of Osama bin Laden to demonstrate how a range of triggers and conditions coalesced in one person to lead to 9/11.

The message conveyed is that there is rarely a single simple explanation for why people become involved in extremist violence and terrorism.

Over the next several weeks/months I hope to address each of the twelve dynamics covered by McCauley and Moskalenko. The table below lists the topics to be covered. read more »


Introducing new students to HJ studies – 2

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from the previous post . . . .

Chris Keith continues with the same authoritative dogmatic lessons for the new student readers when he speaks of

  • Mara Bar Serapion (“Mara does not refer to Jesus by name. Nevertheless, Jesus is certainly the person to whom he is referring”);
  • Pliny the Younger (One of “several Greco-Roman writers [to] refer to Jesus as the founder of Christianity” and who in a letter to Trajan “describes Jesus”);
  • Suetonius (Another one of the “several Greco-Roman writers [to] refer to Jesus as the founder of Christianity” and who also “refers to Jesus”);
  • Tacitus (One more of the “several Greco-Roman writers [to] refer to Jesus as the founder of Christianity” and whose work contains an “account of Jesus”).

Keith informs his readers that though none of the above actually used the name Jesus, Jesus was definitely the one they were writing about. Nowhere is the student informed that “Chrestus” (the name mentioned by Suetonius) was a very common slave name at the time; nor is the reader informed of the existence of any scholarly doubts or debates surrounding any of the passages. One wonders if Chris Keith himself has simply taken the traditional Christian view for granted from the beginning of his student days, too. read more »


Introducing new students to Historical Jesus studies – 1

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by Neil Godfrey

friendsAnthony Le Donne drew our attention on The Jesus Blog to a book he highly recommended as an introduction to Jesus studies for his seminary students, Jesus among Friends and Enemies. Because Le Donne was fired back in 2012 by Lincoln Christian University over his book The Historiographical Jesus in which he argued for a way of studying the gospels that would lead us to conclude that not everything they say about Jesus was necessarily so, and because Le Donne continues to be associated with what many see as groundbreaking critical historical research into the historical Jesus, I could not resist learning more about a book he highly recommends for beginning students.

Le Donne writes:

The introduction by Chris Keith should be required reading for every seminary student.

The introduction indeed turned out to be an eye-opener.

Here is how the authors of the Preface (presumably Chris Keith and Larry Hurtado) preceding that introduction introduce Jesus studies to new students.

First, I need to point out that the book attempts to do two things and it is the first of these that most interested me:

[T]he first half of each chapter presents what scholars can know about [Jesus and other characters in the gospels] from the broad historical record and the contexts of Jesus and the early church.

The second half of each chapter then turns to consider the portrayals of that character or group of characters in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. 

The Preface further bluntly points out that the book “is not a historical Jesus book”, however,

we are nevertheless convinced that its primary focus is relevant to certain discussions in historical Jesus research. . . . [T]he approach of this book can be the first step on a path that leads to studying the historical Jesus and the nature of the Gospels as historical narratives. (My own bolding and formatting in all quotations)

read more »


Atheism, Cults and Toxicity

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by Neil Godfrey

newatheismMy recent exchanges with Jerry Coyne and one of his followers eerily reminded me of previous exchanges I have had with a few biblical scholars: Larry Hurtado, Chris Keith, James McGrath, and others, as well as follows of Acharya S / D.M. Murdock.

Then last night I happened to read the following:

The American Family Foundation says the following attributes are characteristic of a cult:

  • The group members display an excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment to an individual.
  • The group members are preoccupied with bringing in new members. Members are expected to devote inordinate amount of time to the group.
  • Members are preoccupied with making money.
  • Members’ subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family and friends, and to give personal goals and activities that were of interest to the group.
  • Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

Most of these attributes, as we will see, are characteristic of the cult of New Atheism.

[There are other lists of characteristics. Understandable since “cult” covers a wide range of groups in the common usage of the term. I wonder if some of the less overtly authoritarian types are better described as “tribalism” — but we know what we don’t like when we see it, however we define it, I guess. The above characteristics are closer to what I meant by describing D.M. Murdock /Acharya S’s astrotheology advocates as “cultish”.]

Brown lists a collection of comments that were collected by one of Dawkins’ followers at a book signing. Dawkins tweeted to his followers the list:

“You’ve changed the very way I understand reality. Thank you Professor.”

“You’ve changed my life and my entire world. I cannot thank you enough.” “I owe you life. I am so grateful. Your books have helped me so much. Thank you.”

“I am unbelievably grateful for all you’ve done for me. You helped me out of delusion.”

“Thank you thank you thank you thank you Professor Dawkins. You saved my life.”

“With this kind of incense blown at him, it’s no wonder he is bewildered by criticism,” writes Brown. Like any religious text, Dawkins’ book The God Delusion contains contradictions that are ignored by his followers:

In The God Delusion itself he moves within 15 pages from condemning a pope who had baptized children taken away from Jewish parents to commending Nick Humphrey’s suggestion that the children of creationists be taken away because teaching your children religion is comparable to child abuse. So believers can always find a scripture where he agrees with them, which naturally cancels out the one where he doesn’t.

[Isn’t that what we’ve seen in some of the recent exchanges here over what Coyne and Harris are supposed to have said.] read more »


McGrath Guessing Versus Carrier’s Content

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by Neil Godfrey

We have read Richard Carrier’s response to James McGrath’s latest post in Bible and Interpretation on Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus. Some commentary has focussed on Carrier’s tone and lost sight of McGrath’s own commentary — a serious oversight.

McGrath heads his response Richard Carrier’s Dishonesty. That title is not a joke.

Carrier’s title was deliberately ironic: In Which James McGrath Reveals That He Is a Fundamentalist Who Has Never Read Any Contemporary Scholarship in His Field. We know it is ironic because his first words following that title are:

The title of this article is a joke. Sort of. But maybe not as much as you think. As I’ll show. Because James McGrath has added another entry to his bizarrely uninformed critique of On the Historicity of Jesus, and this time is the most dishonest of the bunch. For to get the result he wants, he has to essentially become a Christian fundamentalist, denying there is any mythmaking in the Gospels at all, and reject all non-fundamentalist scholarship of the last fifteen years.

McGrath then accuses Carrier of claiming he (McGrath) has claimed that the Gospels have no symbolic stories in them.

It is ironic that Richard Carrier’s blog post which accuses me of lying about his work blatantly misrepresents what I wrote. No one who has read things I’ve written – or listened to things I’ve said – would ever believe that I claimed that the Gospels have no symbolic stories in them, when I have so often said the opposite. The infancy stories (which I’ve discussed before) in the Gospels are just that – and are much like the infancy stories told about other historical figures besides Jesus.

McGrath’s accusation is false. He fails to supply any quotation or paraphrase of any place where Carrier said McGrath claims the Gospels have no symbolic stories. Carrier nowhere suggested McGrath has claimed the gospels do not contain symbolic stories. Some people would call McGrath’s accusation here a lie.

Carrier’s complaint rests entirely on the readers’ understanding that McGrath knows better. That Carrier is being ironic and directing readers to McGrath’s disingenuousness or word-games is evident in the following:

Do you know who does disdain all that these scholars have shown regarding the Gospels being allegorically constructed? Christian fundamentalists. Do you know who pretends their view is the mainstream view and all other views are “disdained” in the field when in fact the opposite is true? Christian fundamentalists. Who is McGrath siding with? Hm.

and throughout….

McGrath appears to be saying this is my own contrivance, that none of that went on. Once again, that’s the position of a Christian fundamentalist.

McGrath then adds

I’m guessing that the criticisms I’ve offered in my recent articles must be too damaging to mythicism for Carrier to respond to them in a manner that is professional, scholarly, and fair, so that instead he is resorting to deception and expletives. But goodness me, if you can’t deal with criticism in a rational and mature manner, you really shouldn’t try to produce something that even pretends to be scholarship, never mind the actual thing.

“I’m guessing”. Interesting. So McGrath has no apparent wish to respond to the clear reasons Carrier set out for his response. Don’t bother reading Carrier’s content. Focus on the one expletive in the last sentence and entitle yourself to substituting McGrath’s “guessing” for the content of Carrier’s post.

And misrepresent McGrath’s grossly unprofessional encounter with Carrier’s work (it would be misrepresentation to call it a “review”) as honest “criticism”.

Carrier exposes the unprofessional, the unscholarly, the unfair and the deceptive nature of McGrath’s criticism. McGrath ignores the detailed evidence Carrier cites to support each accusation and resorts to a supercilious tu quoque.

McGrath’s review is itself only a “pretence at scholarship” since it failed to provide the most fundamental requirement of any scholarly review: an explanation of the author’s overall argument and methods. (It is also important that we don’t lose sight of the “establishment’s” role in this. Bible and Interpretation claims to be a peer-review page so serious questions must be pointed at them, too. BI knows Carrier’s book was peer-reviewed so that knowledge alone should have alerted them to something amiss with McGrath’s posts — even apart from the several contradictions and fallacies in them.)

McGrath’s “review” committed the very same fallacy at the heart of climate change contrarian scientists: cherrypicking:

Cherry picking was the most common characteristic they shared. We found that many contrarian research papers omitted important contextual information or ignored key data that did not fit the research conclusions. (Here’s what happens when you try to replicate climate contrarian papers by )

Contrast McGrath’s “guessing” with the factual depth of Carrier’s rebuttal: read more »

Where the New Atheists Have Let Us Down

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by Neil Godfrey

EndofFaithPaper_thumbFreelance science writer Dan Jones recently responded to a supporter of Sam Harris outraged over Dan’s criticism of Harris’s popular writings on the role religion plays in terrorist violence. Dan Jones’ concluding remarks strike a chord with me:

(One final thing: I’ve been reading atheists like Dawkins, and older, more philosophical ones like Bertrand Russell and AJ Ayer, since the early 1990s. I’ve also read a lot of Dan Dennett and Christopher Hitchens, and welcomed the rise of the New Atheists in the mid-2000s. However, over time I had to come to accept that on some really important issues, Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens simply had no real grasp of the relevant sciences of human behaviour to engage with them in any serious way. It’s been a major disappointment for me – I had hoped that these would be the voices of rational and empirical enquiry into things like religious extremism, but they’ve become like populist columnists, rather than scientifically informed intellectuals. It’s a painful truth to come to recognise that you’ve invested a lot of time and emotional energy in their ideas – I used to be like a one-man PR firm for hard-core atheism until I realised that, when it came to explaining human behaviour (rather than just criticising the emptiness of theology), these guys had nothing to offer, and what they did say was just so wrong that I felt embarrassed to have thought so highly of them in the first place. It took me a good 5 years to shake off this feeling, so maybe you’ll have had a change of mind by 2020.)

I copy here the commentary that led to that conclusion.  read more »


Part 2 of McGrath’s Review of Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey


(Part 1 can be found here: McGrath’s BI Review of Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus, 1)

McGrath begins his second attempted substantive criticism of Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus with the following mischievous introduction:

It is obviously very easy to find parallels when one’s standard for positing one text having inspired another is that there be prepositions in both, and when something being different (such as gender) can simply be treated as a deliberate reversal.

Of course none of the many peer-reviewed scholarly arguments for reading ancient texts (both classical and biblical) intertextually and mimetically posit a standard “that there be prepositions in both” or “something different . . . can simply be treated as a deliberate reversal.” Nothing in the example McGrath quotes from Carrier supports the suggestion that Carrier is playing fast and loose with superficial rationalizations of counterintuitive similarities. Scholarly criteria for the sort of reading Carrier is undertaking abound: for some of these see 3 Criteria Lists and the several citations in Deeps Below, Storms Ahead.

Without any explanation of Carrier’s overall argument in any of his Bible and Interpretation “reviews” (one normally expects to find an explanation of the overall argument of a work any scholarly review) and without any explanation of where Carrier’s discussion of the Gospel of Mark fits in his larger thesis, McGrath proceeds to quote one portion of Carrier’s discussion of Mark’s use of narratives from Exodus:

Moses performs two water miracles that end the people’s thirst: the tree revealed by God (making bitter water drinkable again, his second miracle), and the flow of water struck from a rock (his fourth miracle). Mark has split these up, so that each inspires two miracle narratives for Jesus, but in different sequences, thus keeping the total miracle narratives in each sequence at five ­ yet another conspicuous coincidence, evincing considerable artifice. In the first sequence Mark draws on the water ­from ­a­ rock episode, which carried the theme of faith overcoming fear and thus obtaining salvation. Hence, the episodes of Jairus’s daughter and the woman with a hemorrhage have the same theme of faith overcoming fear to achieve salvation from suffering or death. The woman also flowed with blood, while the rock flowed with water. And in the Jairus narrative Jesus takes only his top three apostles with him into the bed chamber (the pillars Peter, James and John: Mk 5.37), just as Moses is told to take only three elders with him to strike the rock (Exod. 17.5). The Exodus narrative likewise has the Jews perishing and worried about dying (17.3), thus Mark produces parallel narratives about a woman perishing (besides the obvious fact that she was slowly bleeding to death, that her condition was worsening is explicitly stated: Mk 5.26) and a girl who died.

Oblivious to the context of the above passage and forgetful of all other scholarship relating to textual and thematic links between the Gospel and Pentateuch McGrath responds with a rhetorical question:

Did the woman’s flow of blood remind you of Moses and the water flowing from the rock? 

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The Memory Mavens, Part 8: Chris Keith, Post-Criteria Scholar? (1)

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by Tim Widowfield

Ricky Jay

Photo: Lincoln lays his hand on Ricky Jay
Poster from the film Deceptive Practice.

When magician Ricky Jay performs an amazing card trick, people will often ask, “How do you do that?” He always answers, “Very well, thank you.”

Such masters of prestidigitation rarely, if ever, give away their secrets. Sometimes they take their arcane methods with them to the grave, leaving even their fellow conjurers to wonder for eternity, “How did he do that?”

Of course, it isn’t supposed to be that way in scholarship. We should be able to look at a paper’s abstract and have a fairly good idea as to the author’s thesis, methods, terminology, etc. And yet, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the works of the Memory Mavens and wondered to myself, “What are they getting at?”

Worse than that, I’m frequently left wondering how the scholar, after many pages of legerdemain, leaves us with a portrait of Jesus left on the table — which is exactly the one he predicted (and hoped) he would find. What was his method? “How did he do that?”

A New Methodology?

The Memory Mavens often spend a great deal of time expounding upon the deficiencies of the criteria approach. In Chris Keith’s Jesus Against the Scribal Elite: The Origin of the Conflict he says it “represents [an] ill-conceived historiographical method that is essentially stuck in historical positivism.” (Keith, 2014, Kindle Locations 1539-1540) He writes:

. . . I consider it irreparably broken and invalid as a historical method. The issue for the scholarly agenda now is to define a post-criteria quest for the historical Jesus. (Keith, 2014, Kindle Locations 1559-1561, emphasis mine)

As far as Keith is concerned, we can take the criteria of embarrassment, dissimilarity, coherence, and all the rest, and throw them right out the window. They aren’t just broken; they’re fundamentally flawed.

In his concluding essay to the volume, Jesus among Friends and Enemies: A Historical and Literary Introduction to Jesus in the Gospels, Keith notes with disdain that relying on criteria “mistakenly” assumes we can extract the “real” Jesus hidden behind the text. He notes that more and more scholars are abandoning this approach.

Since the criteria of authenticity are built upon this assumption, and devised as a means of separating one from the other, this abandonment problematizes the usage of criteria of authenticity. (Keith, 2011, Kindle Locations 6314-6315, emphasis mine)

I hate when things get problematized, and I’ll bet you do, too. So the best thing, clearly, would be to set them aside. read more »